GreenCars 101
Electric Cars

Planning an EV Road Trip

Chase Drum
May 2024
So you’ve decided to make the leap into an electric car, and are ready to take your first road trip. If this is your first time, you may feel some anxiety about range or charging, but GreenCars is here to help. Here are some tips to make your first EV road trip a great one.
EV driving on the road

Electric Adventures Made Easy

I started driving EVs over a decade ago, and back then it was a much different, much more unknown landscape. Driving an EV long distances felt more like an adventure similar to “The Oregon Trail,” not knowing what to expect next.

Tesla’s announcement of the Supercharger network in 2013 made road-tripping in an electric car – or at least a Tesla – easier, but it seemed like more of an occasional benefit at the time, compared to the monumental a change to EV driving that it really was. Supercharging, along with the launch of other fast-charging providers, made EVs a much more practical option for everyone.

Embarking on a road trip in an electric vehicle (EV) can be an exciting adventure,  and has led me to discover new stops and hidden gems across the United States that I would not have found otherwise. Going on a road trip in an electric car is now much simpler than it was a decade ago; most EVs can plan a cross country road trip with charging stops within their navigation systems – and if not, many great apps are just a download away.

But, while you now can go on a road trip in an EV without much planning like a traditional gas-powered excursion, a little planning can save you a lot of time. Here's a detailed guide covering everything from route planning and charging, to utilizing technology for an efficient trip.

EV trucks with tents in bed

Pre-Trip Planning

The first step in planning your EV road trip is to map out your route. Before you even consider the range of your EV, ask yourself:

·      How long you even want to be in your car?

·      Do you want to try and get to your destination as soon as possible or are you traveling with other people, including kids or pets, that may want to stop more than you normally would anyways?

·      If so, how long can you drive before you need to pull over?

·      Alternatively, is it just you and are you looking to put as many miles down as quickly as possible to get to your destination?

The answers to all of these questions will help you figure out where you may want to look for charging stations along your path. Also, are you going to be able to get to where you’re going in a single day or will it be a multiple day trip? If it’s the latter, are you staying somewhere you can charge overnight? Thinking of your trips this way not only helps in managing any range anxiety you have, but also ensures you have ample charge throughout your journey.

Also, don’t fret, because there are a lot of apps and websites to help with finding and planning for EV road trips along with helping you find charging stations:

·      PlugShare: One of the most comprehensive EV charging apps available, PlugShare not only shows the locations of charging stations, but also provides user reviews, the types of plugs available, and their operational status.

·      A Better Route Planner (ABRP): Recently acquired by Rivian, ABRP helps plan your route based on your vehicle’s model, battery range, and charging needs, optimizing your stops for charging.

·      Chargeway: Similar to Plugshare, ChargeWay has a slightly simpler user interface, and makes it easier to find chargers that are the best fit for your particular electric car. ChargeWay also gives you options on how to share feedback on your charging experience, or report chargers that need service.

Preparing your Car for a Road Trip

Before you hit the road – even if you’re not driving an EV for your road trip – make sure your car is in top condition. Check the tire pressure, last time your tires were rotated and fluid levels, such as the windshield wiper fluid.

Depending on your car, you can also check that your vehicle’s software is updated to the latest version for optimal performance. This can be anything from up-to-date maps data to even better charging performance.

Understanding Charging Levels

For long-distance travel, knowing about different charging levels is absolutely crucial. If you haven’t read our previous articles on charging here on GreenCars, here’s a quick overview:

·      Level 1 charging: The slowest form of charging, Level 1 chargers generally use a standard 110-120-volt outlet. Obviously, this is not ideal for road trips, as Level 1 chargers offer about 4-5 miles of range per hour of charging. When staying somewhere overnight on your trip, some charge is better than none – but when staying at a hotel or even at a campground, Level 2 charging will be more common, and preferable.

·      Level 2 charging: Level 2 chargers generally operate on 240 volts and typically provide about 12-80 miles of range per hour of charging. Level 2 chargers are great “destination” chargers, at hotels, restaurants, and sites where you will spend a few hours.

·      DC fast charging, otherwise known as Level 3 charging: The quickest option, DC fast chargers can charge an EV to 80% in about 20-30 minutes. They’re what you’ll use the most on road trips, and generally provide 150 kilowatts or more.

When planning your route, using your car’s navigation system, an app, or doing research beforehand, you’ll want to plan to stop at Level 3 chargers when you just want to juice up and go, while you can use Level 2 chargers at spots where you and your car will linger for a few hours.

an available EV charging station

Maximizing Efficiency and Cost Savings

Plan your charging stops around meal breaks, sightseeing, or overnight stays to save time and reduce range anxiety. The two big things to know are:

·      How you want to take breaks

·      How does your EV charge?

With an EV like the Ford Lightning, it charges pretty similarly from 0 to 80%, so you may want to plan to stop less frequently, with longer distances between stops. On the other hand, some other EVs charge very fast from 0% to 50-60% and then start to slow down. Stopping more frequently, but for shorter durations, can actually get you to your destination a lot faster when road tripping an EV. It just depends on your EV and preferred road tripping style.

When taking a multi-day road trip, look for accommodations that offer EV charging. Some hotels provide free charging as an amenity, allowing you to start each day with a full battery without the higher costs associated with fast charging. This can significantly reduce the overall cost and total time of your road trip. Previously, campgrounds with RV power outlets were a great cost-effective option for overnight trips, but now some campgrounds have banned EVs from charging on-site – or at least request that you charge at lower amperages than what the outlet is rated at. Many RV chargers have higher peak ratings, but are not designed to be used continuously, so to prevent a breaker from flipping, it is best to lower your charge amperage.

Leveraging Technology

In addition to charging, there are a number ways to leverage tech to make your road trip easier and less stressful:

·      Navigation apps: I’ve used Waze for traffic and other driving updates like speed traps or debris on the road. However, now Google and Apple Maps both include EV-specific navigation functions that integrate real-time traffic updates, charging station information, and your vehicle’s battery status to optimize your route and charging stops.

·      Offline maps: Since mobile service can be unreliable in remote areas, downloading offline maps can prevent you from getting lost and help locate alternate charging stations if needed.

·      Car features: Make sure that you leverage the specific features of your car that are designed to maximize efficiency. Does your EV have an “eco” mode, or things like a tonneau cover for a pickup truck bed to make the vehicle more efficient? If so, making sure you use the features could mean not only fewer charging stops needed for your trip – but a savings of both time and money.

·      Energy management systems: Some EVs come equipped with sophisticated energy management systems that predict your battery’s usage based on driving style, terrain, and climate conditions. Utilizing these features can enhance your driving decisions and battery utilization – in addition to putting your car in its most efficient driving mode.

Be Prepared for Contingencies

When you’re planning to cover hundreds of miles in a day, in an EV or otherwise, always be prepared for surprises. From traffic delays to the unexpected flat tire, its good to have a backup plan. Identify alternate routes in case your primary choice is unavailable and the EV fast chargers along those paths.

Carry an emergency kit that includes basic tools, first aid supplies, water, snacks, tire repair kit or spare, and extra clothing layers, especially when traveling in colder climates. While in my experience it’s very unlikely for something bad will happen, it may be worth checking if your roadside assistance plan covers EV-specific services. Like towing to the nearest charging station. As they say, “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

Are You Ready to Road Trip?

Planning an EV road trip might seem daunting at first, but with the right tools and a bit of preparation, it can be just as fulfilling (or even more fun) as any traditional road trip. By leveraging technology to optimize your route, finding the occasional hidden gem with a fast charger, and deciding your charging strategy, you can enjoy the unique benefits of traveling in an electric vehicle!

A young couple admiring the forest and trees next to their RAV4 Hybrid

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